Walking the streets at night in a foreign town can be exhilarating and scary. Luckily for us Bologna is not a scary place. As we made out way back to Piazza San Francesco we see all kinds of people spilling into the porticoes and sidewalks. Fire department maximums go ignored. If there isn’t room in the building they will enjoy their glass of wine on the sidewalk leaned against the window. It seems that the city is enjoying an extended Apertivo. Our Piazza is hopping. People are everywhere. Our bike tour guides had said that we were staying in a wonderful spot for food and drink.
We get into our apartment. Just as we are contemplating going back out to enjoy a glass of wine with the local crowd, I open the window and the storm begins. Thunder and lightening, buckets of rain, with umbrellas up people flee the Piazza. In a minute all the people are gone. Headed home to get out of the rain. We had heard that there might be storms the next day. But, after living in the Pacific Northwest for ten years I have forgotten how quick the weather patterns move in other parts of the world. We opt to stay in, and do nothing but discuss dinner for the rest of the evening.
The next day we sleep in and venture out into a drizzly Bologna. The first order of business? Cornetto and Cappuccino. Our guides had told us about Gamberini but it was also an on the list item. We demised it would make a great stop for breakfast, and perhaps a few other treats as well. Gamberini has been a staple in Bologna since 1907. One of the first (some say the first) Pasticceria to open in the city of Bologna. In 2006 the cafe was given the distinction of a historic landmark. Solidifying it’s place on gastronomic list everywhere. Espresso bars are busy places in Italy. It’s not meant to be a serene experience. Gamberini is beautiful on the inside, and very crowded. We make our way to the counter to order. This is where I discover my new favorite breakfast, Cornetto con crema. It’s all the sensation of eating a Bismark style doughnut, but the sweetness is subtle. I feel like a child in the gymnasium of St. Paul’s church and it is “doughnut Sunday.”
Cornetto means “little horn” in Italian. Cornetti differ from the French croissant, not as much butter. But a similar texture because of the rolling folding technique used to make them. Cornetti are a riff on an Austrian pastry Kipferl. They came to popularity in Italy in the same way as coffee through Venice. In 1683 the Republic of Venice did most of it’s commercial trading with Vienna. Kipferl was most likely served to a Venetian merchant on business in Vienna, and when the same merchants entertained the Viennese in Venice they most likely requested these treats be made for their visitors. The history is hard to trace. But, there are many things in Italy that have been inspired by trips to Vienna. Especially where food is concerned. Which it may shock you to know that the cappuccino was not first created in Italy but in Vienna. Kapuziner originated in the coffee houses of Vienna during the 1700s. A nod to the color the coffee turned when milk was added to it, the color of the Capuchin monks robs. After all cappuccino means “small hood” for the monks of the same order. The Italian word cappuccino does not make an appearance in its current form until the 20th century.
Shay also gets two small pastries along with her cornetto. I realize my mistake in not getting some little pieces of heaven after she devours hers with delight. Now the line is long again..Allora we must go on. We’ll come back later to get dessert for tonight. It’s still raining as we exit the cafe. But, if it must rain on you in Italy please let it be in Bologna. The porticoes will keep you mostly dry.
We’re unsure what to do with ourselves today. We had planned on biking the city but that obviously had been changed to the day before. Maybe we’d go to the Modern Art Museum? We pop into shops as we make our way to Piazzo Stefano. Perhaps some souvenirs for friends and family back home? Tired of shopping we set ourselves back on track with the sites. Shay had read about climbing the tallest tower in Bologna, the Asinelli I’m not so sure this is an activity for me. I’m not a heights person. Perhaps I’ll hang out in the churches while Shay explores the tower. Just as Shay is looking to buy herself a ticket a woman from South Carolina asks if we need a ticket. She had accidentally purchased 4 too many. “It’s a sign from the Universe! You should come.” Bowing to peer pressure I agree to take on the tower. After waiting in line for ten minutes it’s our turn to go up 97 meters ( 498 steps) to the top. To say that I was nervous would be a gross understatement, but with tunnel vision on I climbed the stairs. It’s deceiving when you start the climb because the stairs are spiral stone. But, as you go higher they quickly turn to worn wooden stairs that are braced with steal. I’m assuming they have kept the wood for historical reasons. It’s obvious they are not from the middle ages. I imagine they are well worn from the shoes of tourist. I do not dare look down, I look dead ahead and keep climbing.
Bologna like San Gimignano is a town of Medieval towers. In an era when most villages, towns and cities had walls to fortify them from invading armies, towers were useful lookout points. They also became a way for wealthy families to show case their wealth. Families with the biggest towers had the most wealth. It’s thought that Bologna has 180 towers at one point. Only 22 of the originals have survived. Asinelli tower was built in the 12th century by a family with the same name. It was handed over to the municipality in the 13th century. it’s an impressive site. Would I do it again? No! Especially because I was even more nervous about going down. I went into flight mode and left poor Shay in the dust. She was not wearing the best shoes to climb 498 stairs.
Safely on the grounded but covered in rust from the hand railings we make our way over to the Seven Churches of Santo Stefano. The sounds of chamber music fill the air when we walk in the door. It is Saturday, and the choir must be practicing for holy mass the next day. Catholic churches always bring back memories of my childhood at Saint Paul’s this church is no different. The chapel smells of frankincense and holy water. As you walk up the aisle of the main chapel other rooms start to reveal themselves. One appears to be a replica of Jesus tomb, the next room opens into a court yard. You can imagine nuns being cloistered here.
The chapels are beautiful. However, we are in the food mecca of Italy and it’s time for lunch. We had stumbled upon Mercado di Mezzo the previous day by following our noses, and noticing all the market stalls. We headed back in that general direction and found what looked to be like a promising place. It’s the lunch rush and a server comes over to let us know if will be a few minutes before we can be seated. We wait outside under the awning to avoid getting sprinkled on. The sidewalk is filled with people having lunch. The storms haven’t stopped anyone from venturing out. We see a lot of locals, as well as tourists. 051 (zero cinquantuno) is the name of the restaurant we have decided to patron for lunch. It’s a newer place. Started in 2009, now they have four locations in Bologna. We’re starving we need wine and food. We order the cheese plate, and a bottle of Sangiovese while we decide on entrees.
I opt to get the Lasagna Bolognese and Shay gets a tortellini stuffed with ricotta and spinach covered in a marinara sauce. There is something surreal about eating a dish in the place that the dish was invented. It’s a “pinch me” moment for sure. My lasagna is delicious. But, the vegetable lasagna from last night was better. Though, I think that is comparing apples to oranges. Not the same playing field. I’m glad I tried the bolognese.
We debate about dessert? Do we have room? Sure why not, and tiramisu is ordered. Luckily neither of us have a dairy or lactose allergy. Literally everything we have ordered in this meal has cheese. Allora la vita e breve.
We finish our wine and contemplate the evening. The Eurovision song contest is on, and it is a cultural experience I’m told that I must have. We make plans to pick up treats on our way back to the apartment. We have an early train to catch the next day. We’ll take it easy this evening, make dinner at home and cheer for Italy to win.